Bangkok, December 5 (CPJ/OurVoice) – Myanmar authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Myo San Soe and stop imprisoning members of the press on bogus terrorism charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On November 30, a court inside Pyapon Prison, in the Ayeyarwady region, sentenced Myo San Soe, a freelance reporter who contributed to the local Delta News Agency and Ayeyarwaddy Times, to 15 years in prison on charges of violating Sections 50(j) and 52(a) of the Counter-Terrorism Law, according to news reports.
Myo San Soe was convicted for contacting members of People’s Defense Forces, an array of insurgent groups that are fighting Myanmar’s military regime, according to those reports and an employee of the Delta News Agency who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal. He will serve his sentence at Pathein Prison, according to reports.
“Myanmar journalist Myo San Soe’s harsh sentencing is the military regime’s latest outrageous crime against the free press,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Myanmar’s junta must stop equating journalism with terrorism and allow journalists to report on anti-military resistance groups without fear of legal harassment and imprisonment.”
Authorities first arrested Myo San Soe in the Ayeyarwaddy region’s Pyapon township on August 29, 2021, the Delta News Agency employee told CPJ.
Myo San Soe was doing charity work related to the COVID-19 pandemic when he was detained, according to a report, which CPJ reviewed, by the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners Burma, a local human rights organization. Authorities then allegedly found evidence of his contacts with the People’s Defense Forces on his phone, according to that report.
Myo San Soe had covered the People’s Defense Forces before his arrest, the Delta News Agency employee said, adding that authorities had not contacted the outlet at the time of his detention.
Authorities banned the Delta News Agency and filed anti-state charges against its top editors soon after the military seized power in a February 1, 2021, coup, forcing the news organization to relocate to a perceived safe area of Kayin state controlled by rebels, the employee told CPJ.
Myo San Soe had stopped working as a Delta News Agency staff reporter by mid-2021 but continued to file news about the Ayeyarwaddy region as a freelancer, including a report published approximately one week before his arrest, the Delta News Agency employee told CPJ.
The Myanmar Ministry of Information did not reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on Myo San Soe’s conviction, sentencing, and status in prison.